There are certain thoughts that don’t help; instead they block us and make us feel anxious and overwhelmed. Think of a person who wonders if he closed the car door and can’t stop thinking about it, despite having checked it right away. Learning to handle repetitive thoughts can be key to getting your mental health back.
Thinking too much is exhausting
Normally we think about our worries by trying to find solutions to our problems. That’s how we see new perspectives that help us to handle what’s going on. But this natural process of internal reflection doesn’t always happen as we expect. Instead of providing us with greater clarity, it clouds our judgment, pulling us into a spiral of negative thoughts.
These thoughts become intruders in our mind. If we ignore them, they can end up becoming obsessions that take over our lives. This need to ruminate about our worries can happen in any situation. It could happen when we’re at work, out shopping, or brushing our teeth. Without even realizing it, they can occupy our whole mind, also affecting our mood.
What are obsessive thoughts?
Obsessive thoughts are repetitive, recurrent and involuntary ideas, usually centered on worries, fears and anxieties. They prevent you from focusing on the present. Anxiety and stress are the main causes of obsessive thoughts, which can also affect your behavior.
Say a person can’t get rid of their obsession over germs. They will probably clean more often and avoid certain places that they consider dirty. These types of negative thoughts can also appear in the form of mental images that are repeated again and again, uncontrollably. A cycle is created. And it can be hard to get out.
It’s as if you were trapped in a hurricane of thoughts spinning with overwhelming force. Your rumination is so intense that it can be even addictive: the more we try to stop thinking, the more obsessive thoughts appear.
Is it normal to have obsessive thoughts?
An intense anxiety disorder or a period of prolonged stress can lead to invasive thoughts that momentarily interfere with our daily life. Negative thoughts that produce fear and doubt is natural. All people experience it at certain times in their life. Then, depending on how we relate to these thoughts, they may end up becoming obsessive thoughts.
A thought becomes pathological when we begin to believe them and do not question them. For example, imagine a mother thinks someone may steal her child. If she throws the thought out right away, it’s an intrusive thought, but it’s not an obsession because it’s not important to her. Although we may all get these kinds of thoughts at some point, they are more common in people with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD).
Types of obsessive thoughts
People who suffer from Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder or are just going through periods of great anxiety may experience different types of obsessive thoughts. Next, we’ll look at examples of the most common obsessive thoughts.
- Concerns about contracting diseases, getting contaminated, not being clean enough.
- The need to have things organized in a certain way, obsession with symmetry or order.
- Thoughts related to fears about leaving the door open, the gas on, people trying to rob your house, etc.
- Ruminations of a sexual nature that have to do with attacks, rape, etc.
- Fears and sensations of being danger (or someone else being in danger), related to being harmed or doing harm to others.
The consequences of being trapped in obsessive thoughts
These kinds of thoughts feed on each other and do negative things in people’s lives. Say there’s a man who is obsessed with reviewing his work multiple times. He might never be completely satisfied, and therefore, he’s very late getting home every day because of his obsession.
Some possible solutions or consequences of getting hooked on obsessive thoughts are:
- Avoiding doing things out of fear: when a situation causes us fear, we may avoid leaving the house, driving, touching objects that we consider dirty, etc. This limits our daily life and prevents us from living normally.
- Checking over and over just to be sure: this is a type of compulsion very typical in Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. When we close the house or car door and check 10 times to see if it is closed, it is a compulsive behavior. Temporarily it calms us down but in reality, it only feeds our anxiety and obsession.
- Postponing activities for another time: the idea that I will do it later can end up causing me not to do it at all. For example, imagine you want to garden, but you have an irrational fear that you’ll find spiders. You’re so obsessed with that thought that in the end you end up not doing an activity you might have been passionate about before.
- The need to be perfect: perfection is dangerous. It can make you lose your way, trying to achieve the impossible. For example, a person obsessed with work will surely miss out on important moments in their family life because they’re so focused on their obligations at work.
5 steps to freeing yourself from your obsessive thoughts
Accept the thought instead of trying to suppress it
Every time you try to make obsessive thoughts go away, you give them more strength. They will keep repeating incessantly. Pretend to observe them from a distance, as if they were cars passing down a road. This way you don’t stay attached to them. Instead, you can let them go through acceptance.
Postpone the thought for later
By postponing the thought for later, you are deceiving your brain. Later, the thought gets weaker and may go away. Try saying: “I’ll think about it later, I’ll think about it another time”.
Put limits on your obsessions
Do not let your obsessions control you. Instead, you take control of them. To do this, every time an obsession comes to you, you can say the word “Enough!” out loud. You are halting the thought that’s bothering you.
Schedule your obsessions
Set a schedule for your obsessive thoughts. For example, I’m going to think about my fear of getting dirty from four to five in the afternoon. This way you are in charge of the situation, instead of letting yourself be overwhelmed by your negative thoughts.
Practice relaxation techniques
Practicing some kind of relaxation technique, like deep breathing or Jacobson’s Progressive Muscular Relaxation Technique when anxiety menaces will be very helpful for neutralizing obsessions.
To conclude, obsessive thoughts can interfere in our life and really take over. If we start accepting them and questioning them, it will be easier for us to manage them. Remember, we are much more than our thoughts. If we learn to detach, we will let go of unnecessary problems and worries that are only making our lives bitter.